Images of Life

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Rachel Owens (right) shares information with a young woman. The ultrasound machine was purchased through the Order

Rachel Owens (right) shares information with a young woman. The ultrasound machine was purchased through the Order's Ultrasound Initiative.

Rachel Owens knows that life is full of new beginnings. As executive director of Choices Medical Clinic in Iowa City, Iowa, she has the opportunity to help women rediscover hope amid difficult situations. As one of the first pregnancy centers to receive funding for a cutting-edge 3/4D-technology ultrasound machine through the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative, Choices Medical Clinic has a powerful new tool to help women in need. The initiative is cause for great hope for those working to build a culture of life. With the assistance of K of C councils across the country, medically certified pro-life pregnancy centers like Choices Medical Clinic are able to offer truly compassionate care to women experiencing crisis pregnancies.

Launched Jan. 22, 2009, the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative matches funds raised by local and state councils with a contribution from the Supreme Council’s Culture of Life Fund to purchase ultrasound equipment. So far, 12 pregnancy centers have benefited from this project, which serves as a concrete way for Knights to support the health and wellness of pregnant mothers and their babies.

Michigan State Deputy John Moody (left) and Supreme Director Thomas Wegener come to see a new ultrasound machine in Jackson, Mich., in July 2009.

Michigan State Deputy John Moody (left) and Supreme Director Thomas Wegener come to see a new ultrasound machine in Jackson, Mich., in July 2009.

Choices Medical Clinic, renovated largely with volunteer labor provided by local Knights, officially opened Sept. 3, 2009. Two Knights sit on its board of directors — Robert H. Sinclair of Bishop Davis Council 2818 in Williamsburg and Terry Ducharme of Marquette Council 842 in Iowa City. With State Deputy Patrick T. O’Keefe and Supreme Director David A. Bellendier, they played a role in making the ultrasound machine a reality for the clinic. The statewide campaign, with support from many local councils, was matched by a $36,000 check from the Supreme Council. Additionally, St. Wenceslaus Council 14385 in Iowa City initiated a bottle collection project to raise the $10,000 needed for the annual maintenance of the ultrasound machine.

Since early June, Choices Medical Clinic has offered ultrasounds to dozens of women. Owens hopes to eventually see five to seven women a day. She explains that the ultrasound is a crucial part of giving women truly compassionate care. “Seeing their baby via ultrasound builds trust between the woman and the counselor,” said Owens. The images are three-dimensional, and the 4D capacity allows the mother to see the baby in real-time. The women are also given a DVD of images of their baby.

The clinic is available to the women for ongoing support throughout the pregnancy and after. “We are there to stand by them in their decision,” Owens added.

Statistics show that approximately 90 percent of women who see their baby by ultrasound choose life. Interestingly, Owens notes that for fathers of the child the figure approaches 99 percent. “Because men are so visual, and because they have an innate desire to protect, the ultrasound is very powerful for them,” she said.

Owens is emphatic in her praise of the Knights and their on-going support for the clinic. “I am not Catholic myself, but I have been amazed to see how their mission is pro-life to the core!” she said. “It is so precious to have such wonderful men of God to support us. Seeing the Knights has restored my faith in men. Receiving their generosity is one of the best parts of this job.”

The Knights’ support also means a lot to Dot Harms, executive director of Culture of Life Family Services (COLFS) in San Diego. The facility is a full-service Catholic medical center that also offers support to women in crisis pregnancies. The clinic receives referrals from across southern California and provided $90,000 in free medical care last year.

With two new abortion facilities opening in San Diego North County, COLFS felt it was imperative to open a second pregnancy resource center in Escondido but needed a new ultrasound machine. Harms had begun a very lengthy application process with another pro-family organization to obtain a donated ultrasound machine when she learned about the Order’s Ultrasound Initiative. A $25,000 check from an anonymous donor and a matching grant from the Supreme Council led to the clinic getting a machine faster than anticipated.

Moreover, the new ultrasound machine has both better and portable technology, making it possible to take the device between COLFS’ two locations. It has already helped to save and transform numerous lives.

“We had a young Marine come in with his fiancée,” said Harms. Their baby was due before their wedding, and he was convinced they needed to abort the unborn child. The ultrasound completely changed his mind.

“During the ultrasound that little baby gave an audition for life,” Harms added. “There are no other tools we have to really help women in these situations besides our faith and the ultrasound.”

Ultrasound technology can also help women consider adoption (COLFS made 12 adoption referrals in the last year). “I am a firm believer in adoption,” Harms explained. “I encourage women to look at Mary’s gift to the world. Women in these situations have an opportunity to give someone a treasure, a life — it really is the most selfless gift.” Harms has also greatly appreciated the assistance of the Knights. “It is very affirming to our ministry to have the Knights back us and work with us. They have been incredibly supportive.”

Dr. Michele Krieger performs an ultrasound scan on an expectant mother at Life Choices Pregnancy Center in Kearney, Neb.

Dr. Michele Krieger performs an ultrasound scan on an expectant mother at Life Choices Pregnancy Center in Kearney, Neb.

At the 126th Supreme Convention in 2008, delegates voted unanimously to establish the Culture of Life Fund, proceeds from which have since been used to continue the Order’s “longstanding commitment to marriage, family and the gift of life.” A year later, in his 2009 report, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson issued the following challenge to his brother Knights: “We should make sure that crisis pregnancy centers have all of the resources they need, not just from our ultrasound program, not just from our Culture of Life Fund, but in the form of supplies and volunteer time from Knights and their families in thousands of councils in communities large and small. Many mothers who decide to have their children will need help after the child is born. Building a culture of life will necessarily mean helping them then, too.”

Laurie Bollig, director of Loreto House in Denton, Texas, could not agree more. She offers her friendship to all the women who walk through the door of Loreto House. “I have found it easier and easier to love the women who come to us. When you hear the stories of hurt and abuse,” she said, “it is hard not to want to take them in your arms for a hug and tell them it will be all right.”

Bollig added that many young women just need to be reminded, or even told for the first time, that God loves them. A month after meeting Bollig, one young woman returned and said she had pondered the thought that God had a plan for her life. “She told me that she had changed her life,” Bollig recalled. “God blesses me with these women as spiritual daughters.”

In addition to assisting pregnant women, Loreto House covers the full-spectrum of life issues by providing services for the elderly and dying. There is a chapel on site, and all staff members receive training from the Sisters of Life.

Laurie Bollig’s husband, Randy, serves as vice president of Loreto House. A member of Denton Council 4771, he explained that Past State Deputy Leo E. Hanus (2004-06) got the ball rolling and secured a $1,500 grant to kick-start the fundraising efforts to purchase a new ultrasound machine.

When they received the machine, Laurie nicknamed it “Gabriel.” “Our machine is our own angel of life showing moms the wonder of the little lives inside of them,” she explained. 

Nebraska State Deputy Michael G. Conrad has been excited about the Order’s Ultrasound Initiative since he first heard about it in June 2008. He immediately wanted to make it a reality in his home state. At the time, a campaign was underway in Nebraska that would require physicians to show women an ultrasound image prior to proceeding with an abortion. Recognizing that abortion clinics would settle for low-quality ultrasound machines, Conrad wanted to make the latest technology available, allowing women to clearly see their babies.

It took a year of planning and organization to make the purchase of a machine a reality. “As councils receive funds, we designate money towards pro-life activities, advertising, etc.,” Conrad explained. “Donations come from across the state. In a certificate of deposit, these funds were growing. We knew someday we would use this money for an important project.”

Even though the bulk of the population is located at the east end of Nebraska, some women travel six to eight hours to get an abortion. “It was important that the machine be placed where it could do the most good,” said Conrad.

Having a centrally located ultrasound machine would give all women in Nebraska an option for life much closer to home. Thus, Knights chose Life Choices Pregnancy Center in Kearney to receive the machine in July 2009.

“Right before the State meeting, we went to the center, and we paid for the machine. We got to see images of the babies,” said Conrad. “If we save just one life, it’s worth every penny. We must encourage councils to do this — it’s just the right thing to do.”

For more information about the Order’s Ultrasound Initiative, visit